October 13th -- The Invisible Man
Since I was still over at my inlaws, I figured that I better follow "Prometheus" up with something a little old-school: if there's one thing my inlaws don't dig on, it's gratuitous violence in films (they really aren't horror fans, either, to be honest). To that end, I decided to go with one of the Universal classics that I'd somehow managed to miss all these years: "The Invisible Man."
As I mentioned with my review of "The Wolf Man" and "Creature From the Black Lagoon," some of the Universal monster classics have aged better than others. "The Invisible Man" is one of those that's aged just a bit more than most.
Directed by James Whale (the quirky genius behind "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein") and starring Claude Rains (or at least his voice), "The Invisible Man" ends up being a bit of a mish-mosh, although it's never less than fun. Part of the problem (actually the biggest problem) is the overall tone: the film slips effortlessly between silly, 1930's-era slapstick and a more serious "Universal" tone. Astute viewers will recall that "Frankenstein" had some similar tonal shifts but nothing like "The Invisible Man." In one scene, Rains describes how he would use his newfound powers of invisibility, moving from acts of pure, juvenile mischief (basically fucking around with people while invisible) to total savagery (killing innocent people for the hell of it, derailing entire trains for kicks) in seconds. The scene makes its point just fine but there's something about Rains' performance that seems more suited to the acts of mischief than actual violence.
The plot is pure simplicity: a tortured scientist (played by Rains) discovers the secret of invisibility and, literally, disappears from the lives of his colleagues and fiancee. Some time later, he "reappears" (figuratively) and proceeds to wreck havoc on their lives. The police get involved and a manhunt ensues for the "invisible man." Soon, everyone in the city is looking for mysterious footprints in the snow and shapes in smoke.
Lest anyone think that I didn't fully enjoy "The Invisible Man," however, allow me lay those concerns to rest. Although nowhere near as great as the "traditional" Universal canon and falling somewhere behind "Creature..." but before "The Wolf Man," "The Invisible Man" is endlessly entertaining. The invisibility effects are actually pretty impressive, for their age, and look a whole helluva lot better than the cheesy effects in more modern films like "The Hollow Man." Rains' performance is full of gusto and bravado, although he also lets a little vulnerability and sorrow into the mix. If the ending isn't quite as satisfying as it could be, it nonetheless fits in nicely with the mores of the time.
All in all, "The Invisible Man" is a good, but not great, entry in the classic Universal monster movies collection. Some good performances and effects are offset by odd tonal shifts and some silly slapstick action sequences. At its heart, however, the film is really about the same old Universal themes: the deadly pursuit of power; the effects of alienation; the perception of self as monstrous...they're all here. If you ever plan a Universal marathon, be sure you don't leave "The Invisible Man" out in the cold: after all, the poor guy is buck naked, after all.